The frogger, the switcheroo, the pop-up and the invisible bike lane
THERE IS a perversely ingenious network that criss-crosses Dublin, appearing, disappearing, morphing into something else entirely. It is the city’s system of cycle lanes. Although, “lane” is not always the best description. Cycle-coasters, would perhaps best describe their adrenaline-boosting thrill-a-minute properties.
There can be a certain terrified exhilaration in the challenge of a pedal across the city and its suburbs. “Great, I’m in a bike lane. Oh, now it’s a bus lane! Hold on, this is a path! No, it’s a parking area! A loading zone! A road bowling venue! A runway!”
When not concentrating on not being killed, I sometimes take a little time to wonder just how these were designed. They really are an extraordinary set of obstacles – like a challenge you would set a lab mouse having given them an injection of something experimental.
I presume planners did what they could within the constraints presented to them. Or – and I prefer this thought – they spent hours coming up with the most outlandish routes possible, rewarding each other for the most brilliant, bounding in each day by exclaiming such things as: “Water! Have we considered running a cycle lane into the sea yet? Just visible at low tide, like . . .”
When you do get a clear run through a cycle lane, it is wonderful, a little glimpse of Amsterdam. But it is always fleeting, a tease. I haven’t cycled in other cities: perhaps there are equally mad cycle lane layouts in Mumbai or Minnesota, but I somehow doubt it. Dublin’s cycle lanes were a factor in a study carried out by the TCD school of engineering, which this week found that regular, confident cyclists actually preferred to use the road; that the variety of confused cycle lanes and the obstacles – human and otherwise – they contained were seen as increasing the danger of cycling in the city.
We know the stats regarding cycle lanes – their environmental and health benefits, their effect on traffic patterns and the huge levels of righteousness to be found among the pedalling population. So, instead of harping on about that, I’m simply going to present a selection of the cycle lanes I’ve observed in an urban habitat. You may want to add your own (but remember, never text while cycling).
The disappearing cycle lane: one moment you’re in it, the next, it stops and you are forced into the traffic like a drunk being kicked out of a nightclub. Then, as if having rested for a while, it will reappear again as mysteriously as it disappeared. But you can never trust it again.
The car share: a bus lane on a stretch of road so narrow that to actually cycle alongside a car is impossible. The only way to safely share the lane with a car is to be sitting inside the car with the bike fixed to the roof.
The switcheroo: a bike lane which, at a junction, continues into the middle of a diverging road so that, to exit, cars must cut directly across it. Where a moment before, all was safe and solid, now the cyclist is exposed and vulnerable.
Drivers almost never realise this is an issue until loud banging noises start coming from somewhere outside their car, followed by high-pitched muffled shouts of protest. They take the appropriate action, which is to slow down and turn up their radio a bit until it goes away.
The frogger: There are several spots in Dublin – Drumcondra is most familiar to me – where the cyclist is suddenly directed up on to the path and alongside pedestrians, many of whom are toddling along with giant headphones glued to their ears and wouldn’t know if a helicopter gunship was coming up behind them, never mind a pushbike. The cycle lane is clearly marked, but only if you’re viewing it from a few hundred feet above.
Ultimately, the cyclist is most at danger from surprised pedestrians, who – in some strange quirk of evolutionary psychology – almost invariably jump towards the cyclist rather than away.
The pop-up: a particularly clever cycle-coaster, in which the cyclist is directed on to the path, only to encounter a bus stop in the middle of it – turning it into a fiendish chicane, often with moving, two-legged obstacles scattered around it.
The invisible lane: this is not actually invisible, it’s just that there are so many cars parked along it, rows of doors flapping open like an Advent calendar on Christmas Eve, that it might as well be.